Dori Maynard Remembered

Dori J. Maynard memorial service

The memorial service for Dori J. Maynard attracted about 200 people for whom diversity is an article of faith. On stage are emcees Virgil Smith of Gannett Co. Inc., and Latoya Peterson of Fusion. (Sharon Shahid/Newseum)

Friends, family and colleagues of Dori J. Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, or the Maynard Institute, gathered at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center May 4 for an emotional celebration of her life and legacy.

Maynard, an author and former reporter who as president of the Maynard Institute worked tirelessly to promote diversity in newsrooms, died of lung cancer Feb. 24, 2015. She was 56. An earlier memorial was held March 2 in Oakland, where the institute is based.

The list of speakers who shared their remembrances of Maynard and who read from her works were as diverse as the institute she helmed. Maynard’s mother, Liz Rosen, and her brothers, David and Alex Maynard, made brief statements. Most of the speakers were colleagues from academia and journalism, many of whom had deep ties to Maynard’s family and the institute, and who used words such as “passion,” “sparkle,” “wit,” “tenacity,” “committed” and “insightful” to describe her.

Martin Reynolds, an editor at the Bay Area News Group and an institute board member, told the rapt audience that on the day she died, Maynard, who had difficulty breathing, sent encouraging text messages to her staff and insisted on being part of a telephone conference.

“This woman was in her last hours of life and yet was still pushing the institute’s programs through,” Reynolds said.

Evelyn Hsu, the institute’s senior director of programs and operations, lamented that Maynard “never got to see how she would look with her braces off.”

“I hope that you know the endings of “Homeland,”  “Mad Men” and “Downton Abbey,” she said.

“She listened to my white girl feminist frustrations,” Geneva Overholser, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and senior fellow and consultant at The Democracy Fund, tearfully said.

Donald E. Graham, chairman and CEO of Graham Holdings Co., and former publisher of The Washington Post, talked about his relationship with Maynard’s late father, Robert C. Maynard, who was one of a few minority reporters at the Post in the 1960s. In 1977 Robert, and his wife, the late Nancy Hicks Maynard, founded the Maynard Institute. In 1983, they became the first African Americans to own a major city newspaper when they purchased the Oakland Tribune. Dori and her father were the first father-daughter duo to be named to the prestigious Nieman Fellows program at Harvard University, 27 years apart.

Graham said Dori Maynard made “an overwhelming contribution to the management of newspapers,” and lauded the institute as unparalleled in the newspaper industry.

“This is the best training program in the history of the newspaper industry. Period,” he said.

Dori Maynard became president of the institute in 2001. Under her leadership, it launched programs to educate journalists about overcoming biases when covering diverse communities. She was dedicated to the inclusion of diverse voices in public discourse and held the press accountable for its portrayals of people of color. When unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot to death in Florida in 2012, she wrote in the Oakland Tribune that it was time for the news media “to look at what our distorted coverage of communities of color is doing to the country.”

Eric Newton, a journalist and senior adviser to the president of The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, was a close friend of the Maynards and was managing editor at the Oakland Tribune when it won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography.

Newton said he and Dori Maynard were “twins”  in many ways, including the fact that they both liked a news scoop. Newton announced that an award named in memory of Maynard — the Dori J. Maynard Award for Diversity in Journalism — has been sponsored by the Knight Foundation and will be given each year by the American Society of News Editors for “outstanding storytelling that helps a community better understand itself.”

“Bob’s greatest journalistic invention was a person, and her name is Dori,” Newton said.

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